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  • 21 Dec 2014

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All of a sudden, Ducks are reeling

EUGENE — The sky isn’t falling. Forgive Dana Altman, though, if he is reaching for a hard hat.

Eight days ago, Oregon was ranked 10th in the country, 7-0 in Pac-12 play and full of dreamy aspirations regarding the NCAA Tournament.

On Thursday night, after a mind-numbing 48-47 loss to Colorado at Matt Knight Arena, the Ducks are 7-3, tied with UCLA and Arizona State for second place in the conference and spinning a bit off track.

“We had things rolling pretty good,” said Altman, Oregon’s third-year coach. “The tide has turned, and it’s going to take some character to turn it back.”

Colorado led for exactly 23 seconds Thursday night — the final 23 seconds.

Oregon was in front 15-7 early and held a 47-40 advantage with 4:26 remaining in the offensively challenged contest. The Ducks went scoreless the rest of the way, going 0 for 3 with three turnovers on their final six possessions.

The Buffaloes offered help by hitting only 2 of 4 free-throw attempts but converted three tip-in putbacks down the stretch to snap Oregon’s 20-game home win streak.

“The difference in the game was offensive rebounding,” Altman said afterward. “They had 17 second-chance points, we had eight. None were more obvious than in the last four minutes.”

Odd thing was, Oregon grabbed 16 offensive rebounds to 14 by Colorado. The Ducks — who shot .362 for the game, including 3 for 15 from 3-point range — simply couldn’t do much with theirs.

The Buffaloes (15-7 overall, 5-5 in Pac-10 play) won despite shooting .365, getting outrebounded 37-32 and limiting Oregon to 2 for 2 at the free-throw line.

I asked Altman if, in his 28 years as a head coach at the college level, he had ever had a team attempt only two foul shots.

“I don’t think so,” he said tersely.

Colorado shot only 10, though, making six in a game in which the referees led the players play.

After Andre Roberson’s putback gave the Buffaloes a 48-47 lead with 23 seconds remaining, Altman eschewed the opportunity to call a timeout — perhaps because he had only one remaining. The Ducks advanced the ball upcourt but looked in disarray when Altman finally signaled for time with 8.3 ticks left.

“We had a play called (from the bench),” Altman said. “It didn’t work.”

After the timeout, the ball went to E.J. Singler, who was surrounded by defenders as he tried to drive to the basket. He turned around and launched a 17-foot fadeway that was partially blocked by Spencer Dinwiddie. Roberson grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 1.1 seconds to go. Since the Ducks were out of timeouts, that was the game.

“The play was designed for me to get a drive,” Singler said. “They played good 'D' and cut me off. I just tried to get a shot up. It didn’t go in.”

The question was asked: Did Dinwiddie get a piece of it?

“He got a piece of my hand,” Singler said.

Was he saying he got fouled on the play?

“It’s hard to make that call down the stretch,” the 6-6 senior said, shaking his head. “So ... I don’t know.”

The loss came on the heels of a 58-54 defeat at California in which the Ducks led by six points with three minutes to go.

“We have to get our composure back,” Altman said. “We need to hit some shots. (The Buffaloes) were packing it in on us pretty tight. Our inability to knock down shots is really hurting us right now.”

Oregon’s slide coincides with the loss of freshman point guard Dominic Artis to a foot injury.

“D.A. spreads the floor,” Altman said. “You have to stay on him. With our inability to hit perimeter shots, the floor has shrunk. It’s made it tough to drive to the basket.”

Artis’ replacement, junior Johnathan Loyd, was 0 for 7 and went scoreless in 32 minutes Thursday night. Whether the result of a sore thumb on his right hand or nerves — probably some of both — he was running from shots by game’s end.

Artis is shooting only .389 from the field, but there’s no question his presence on the court is missed. There is nobody behind him at point guard who approximates his skills.

“It’s a bad excuse,” Altman offered. “We had plenty of opportunities. The turnovers were by our seniors. They have to do a better job. We had some seniors make some really bad decisions.”

Oregon, 18-5 overall, overachieved through the first 20 games, thanks in part to Altman milking a lot from the talent on hand. The Ducks rely on four seniors — Singler, Tony Woods, Arsalan Kezemi and sixth-man Carlos Emory — and freshman guards Artis and Damyean Dotson. Dotson, the team’s leading scorer, was a non-factor Thursday, shooting 2 for 8 and scoring five points in 26 minutes.

Altman is playing coy on the extent of Artis’ injury. He has been listed day-to-day since he left the lineup before the 76-52 loss at Stanford on Jan. 30.

When I asked the coach when Artis would return, he replied, “I don’t know. As soon as the doctor clears him, we’ll play him.”

The remainder of the schedule favors the Ducks. They don’t have to play the other three teams at the top of the Pac-12 standings — leader Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA. They get 2-8 Utah twice, beginning Saturday at home.

Maybe a victory over the lowly Utes will get the Ducks back on track. Maybe then their coach can put his figurative hard hat away.

“This is a rallying point,” Altman said. “We need to come together here. We have to figure a way out of this.

“Our guys worked awfully hard to get to where we were. We’ve given a lot back now. It starts again Saturday.”

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